Hiding between a few Prickly Teatree bushes on the edge of Bambra Rd and Distillery Creek picnic ground is a large mud puddle that is a bird oasis, especially in the summer.
It was presumably dug for the use of fire-fighters, but it now has a high bird approval rating. In recent months at Distillery Creek, with the Ironbarks flowering and littering the pathways with cast-off blossoms, the bush has been alive with carousing honeyeaters. On my winter walks I have noticed that most mud puddles on the pathways seem to have their own cohort of bathing birds, mainly honeyeaters. However, on returning to the picnic ground and setting myself up with binoculars by ‘the pool’, I have rarely seen many bathing birds, although it is possible that they have been waiting for me to leave! It is on the late summer afternoons that this pool often comes alive. It probably happens early in the day also, but I have the temperament of an owl so am rarely awake and active for dawn choruses!
Sometimes it is single birds bathing, but often it seems that different species take it in turns to ‘use the facilities’. The usual method is to quickly dive and splash near the surface, and immediately return to the safety of nearby dense foliage—providing a real a challenge for binoculars or cameras. Home bird baths similarly need to be situated where birds feel safe, with bushes nearby in which to hide. Bird baths out in the open will usually be rejected by birds unless they are desperate.
Neighbours of mine in Melbourne had a beautiful bird bath with a distant circle of upright rose bushes and I never saw a bathing bird in it. After bathing, birds usually sit on firm horizontal branches and preen and twitter—near each other if with the same species, or spread out if with different species. The most amusing of these has to be a gathering of the ubiquitous New Holland Honeyeaters. Graeme Pizzey in his bird guide evocatively describes the noisy twittering that ensues, as a ‘corroboree’.
New Holland Honeyeaters (with White-naped Honeyeater in foreground)
Another regular honeyeater is the White-naped, with its distinctive orange-red eye crescent.
Strangely I have rarely seen the pool used by the most common and largest honeyeater, the Red Wattlebird. The most unusual bathing practice is performed by the White-fronted Treecreeper, which clearly saves its energy for other pursuits. It quietly stands on the muddy edge facing away from the water, and carefully backs in an out of the water a few times while looking out for predators.
More solitary birds, such as the delightful Yellow Robin, will have a quick dip from a tree nearby rather than use the Prickly Teatree bushes. A splendid summer staple is the Satin Flycatcher, the male with his white underparts and glossy blue-black above, and the female with her paler back but glorious rich orange-buff chest and throat.
Satin Flycatcher (male)
Satin Flycatcher (female)
In the last couple of summers, I have been privileged to see some more unusual birds.
One day I kept hearing a bird call I knew but couldn’t identify and, finally, to my great delight, a shining small blue-green Sacred Kingfisher came in to bathe. Hopefully I will now remember its call.
The biggest excitement last summer was White-winged Trillers, especially the males, with their handsome black and white plumage. I had seen and heard a pair in trees over the other side of the road, but then the glorious male bird flew into the bush behind the pond ready for a bath.
White-winged Triller (male)
White-winged Triller (female)
I regret not being able to identify a large bird of prey that flew in one day, and hid behind the reeds before flying out.
Possibly the most delightful bird, which I always hope to see in the mid-summer, is the Rufous Fantail. Graeme Pizzey describes it as ‘a dancing flame’ with its lively, fiery, fanned tail.
There are many more birds, of course, and I would especially like to see a Rose or Pink Robin or a Bassian Thrush.
Pink Robin (young male)
Maybe I need to get up early, as Margaret Lacey does, for she has photographed all of these and more. To keep up with Margaret’s latest local bird photos follow her on Instagram #marglaceygorbirds.
But don’t tell anyone about the pool … it’s my secret!
Photos by Margaret Lacey